LOWELL | Sarah Wieser is a helpful person, quick to console someone or offer constructive criticism.
A member of the peer mentor program at Lowell, an occasional volunteer greeting card deliverer at Merrillville’s Methodist Hospital where her mom works and as a helper at athletics events as part of the “L” Club, Wieser derives satisfaction from helping others.
However, she couldn't be helped last October at the Crown Point Regional. She lay in a heap of sweat and disappointment. She walked away from everyone and wished she could be invisible.
She had placed a career-low 28th, and it was the nadir of a career that appeared it might peak last year, her junior year. Wieser made the semistate as a freshman and sophomore, but about a mile and a half into the regional last fall she felt her body quit.
She didn’t understand what happened and doesn’t care to further examine or excuse it, as it’s in the past. She spent time alone seeking answers after the race but eventually rejoined her team for the ride back to school and focused on basketball and track.
This fall she’s hell-bent on a return to semistate and beyond, enticed by the slight change in rules for semistate that allow the top 10 individuals from non-qualifying teams to advance to state.
“Junior year was rough for me,” Wieser said. “This year after a meet I’ll sometimes say at least I beat my junior year time, but then I realize I didn’t do that well as a junior. As I progress more and keep learning more about the sport, I’ve figured out how to do it better.
“I have so much more motivation going into senior year, and I have to prove to myself that I was a better runner than that.”
She’ll get a chance today when the Red Devils host the Bob Thomas Invitational (the 27th annual for girls, 32nd for boys). Her goal is a top 10 finish, which she’s never mustered at the event.
Wieser already won a triangular with Munster and Griffith this year, took third at the West Lafayette Invitational and was fourth at the Crown Point Invitational.
“I’m one of those people that if I don’t do well I want to work harder to do better,” Wieser said.
That approach might have been the root of the travails of 2012. Wieser is a scrapper -- a quality she’s honed playing varsity basketball at a stout 5-foot-1 -- and does not admit injuries often, especially the nagging variety.
This summer, she missed a month of training from an Achilles injury that started as soreness. She ascribed the ailment to the constant switching between basketball, its shoes, stop-start motions and her running shoes and trail work.
Wieser, the youngest of two, derives much of her competitive drive from her dad Chris, an accomplished runner at Merrillville who had a long tenure as a basketball and football official in the area.
The honor roll student has been a model student-athlete with three sports and multiple extracurricular activities.
“Balancing time is the main thing, but doing everything I do makes me feel good because people can rely on you,” Wieser said. “At some points it gets overwhelming with sports, but after your freshman year when you want to do every single thing, your head gets on straight, and you realize what’s important and what you have to do.”
Wieser and the Devils have benefited from volunteer assistant coaches Trish Stanton and Maureen Frame, both accomplished runners. Their advice has been particularly effective on Wieser, who absorbs all she can.
“She’s definitely refocused,” Lowell coach Scott Coil said. “She’s learning running is much more mental and coming to grips with the idea that she needs to be mentally prepared.”
Wieser is taking better care of herself physically with enhanced diet and things such as ice baths. She wants to run, probably cross country and track, at a Division II or III college.
“I don’t feel like a senior yet, but it’s going to be my last home meet soon,” Wieser said. “(At the Bob Thomas Invite) I’ve got to show I’m from Lowell, and this is my course.”